Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » An American Mormon? or a Mormon American?

An American Mormon? or a Mormon American?

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 18, 2011

A loud middle-aged man with a clipboard was stopping pedestrians on Salt Lake’s Main Street to take a survey.

When he asked if I was an American citizen, I said, “Yes.”

When he asked if I was a Mormon, I said, “Yes.”

Then he asked, “Which is more important? America or the Mormon Church?”

His tone was so belligerent that I sensed a trap – but I didn’t know which it would be. If I said “America,” would I be told that Mormons didn’t really believe in God because I honored my country more? If I said “The Church,” would I be told that no Mormon was qualified for public office because we’d all do what the Church told us instead of upholding the Constitution? I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but I suspected I couldn’t win no matter which I chose.

So I didn’t choose. I said, “When my mother died, a military honor guard attended her graveside service because she was a veteran of World War II. I didn’t know how tight a schedule the honor guard had, so I asked the captain if he needed to do the flag-folding ritual and the rifle salute first, or could he wait until we had dedicated the grave? He snapped to attention and said, ‘God before country, ma’am!’

“So was the soldier right?” I asked the survey-taker. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but he couldn’t answer. I smiled and moved on.



  1. Brilliant!

    Comment by mahana — September 18, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  2. What a perfect way to answer his question. You are brilliant.

    Comment by jks — September 18, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  3. Great Answer. Ranks right up there with “Render unto Caesar.”

    Comment by andrew h — September 18, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

  4. Wonderful answer.

    I am wondering where your mother served during WWII? My mom was stationed at the hospital in Brigham City for a while.

    Comment by Naismith — September 18, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  5. Seriously perfect.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 18, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  6. Naismith, Mom (Sgt. Bernice Taylor) was all over the place, from Fort Oglethorp, Georgia, to Denver, to Albuquerque. She spent more time at Majors Field, Texas, than any other assignment — and that’s where she met my dad, although they didn’t meet again and marry until ten years after the war.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 18, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  7. Loved this. You are incredible.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 18, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  8. I admire your fast-thinking, Ardis!

    Comment by proud daughter of eve — September 18, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

  9. Was “neither” an option? You were wise to smell a rat…I mean…trap.

    Comment by Chris H. — September 18, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  10. Yes, it sounded kind of fishy. Great answer.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 18, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

  11. Wonderful rejoinder, Ardis!

    Comment by JB — September 18, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

  12. in consequence of evils and designs
    which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days

    It is sad when people with a point to make feel the need to set a trap just to make it.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — September 18, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  13. Well-spoken! I’m grateful for the association our family’s had with the military where expressions of faith are still to be found that would not be countenanced elsewhere in public today. Thankful for the service of chaplains to soldiers and their families.

    Comment by Debra Young Liening — September 18, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

  14. For some questions the best answer is a question, that is what Jesus did do. And you seem to master that art as well.

    Comment by Niklas — September 19, 2011 @ 1:29 am

  15. Very cool, Ardis.

    Comment by Paul — September 19, 2011 @ 6:46 am

  16. Ardis: That is the exact same brilliant reply that I would have come up with. Only I would have come up with it a couple weeks after the fact.

    Bien dit!

    Comment by -MMM- — September 19, 2011 @ 7:29 am

  17. Well done.

    Comment by kevinf — September 19, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  18. Love it!

    Comment by Cliff — September 19, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

  19. Wow — talk about thinking on your feet!

    Comment by David Y. — September 19, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

  20. Very good. My first thought was to ask the survey-taker, “in what sense do you mean ‘more important’?”

    Whenever people use a set-up question, just have them parse out their question into manageable parts. Turn the questions back on them. “If I’m late for church, do I think I can ignore the laws and speed down the road? Is that what you’re asking?”

    Comment by Todd G. — September 20, 2011 @ 7:48 am

  21. This reminds me of what my wife would always say when asked by acquaintances if she was pregnant. Since she felt such questions were none of their business, she would simply ask them:

    “How soon do you need to know?”

    Comment by Kent Larsen — September 20, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  22. A Daniel!

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 20, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  23. This really is brilliant, Ardis. Quick on the feet.

    Comment by Michelle — September 26, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

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